Arguably the most beautiful city in Italy (according to an Italian Purdue University professor, take it or leave it!), Florence is a city to behold. Sitting right below the Apennines hills along the esteemed Arno River, Florence has made great contributions to the world stage with everyone from Leonardo da Vinci to Masaccio. The city is lined with neat cobble stoned streets and grand plaza squares, with the Piazza del Duomo and the Piazza della Signoria at the heart of it all. Florence is known for its statues that reflect the tastes of Renaissance culture, and many stretches of the city are full of tiny niche workshops that reflect the traditional work life of the city from butchers to blacksmithing. For a taste of 17th century “palazzi belli” and endless miles of city gardens, Florence is the place.
Getting There / Reaching the City:
Florence has its own international airport, the Amerigo Vespucci, which is located about 3 miles from the city center. Some of its airlines include Lufthansa, Alitalia, and Air France. Italy has a spectacular train system with high speed connections turning cities afar into neighbors. The Santa Maria Novella train station in Florence connects you to all of the major Italian cities.
Sights You Can’t Miss:
- Piazza della Repubblica – This majestic square sits right atop of Florence’s original Roman Forum and is the center of city life.
- The Uffizi – Arguably one of the world’s most prestigious art galleries in line with the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Uffizi holds Renaissance paintings from the likes of Paolo Ucello, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Giotto, and more. The entire collection can be found on the top floor of this office building. In addition to these esteemed artists, the museum holds ancient Greek and Roman artifacts and contains a stretch of rooms addressing different themes and eras from the Gothic periods to the Florentine art periods. For an ideal time, concentrate on the 15 rooms of Renaissance paintings one day and the 30 rooms of later Italian and European paintings the next.
- Piazza del Duomo – The official “Cathedral Square” of Italy, the Piazza del Duomo is smack in the middle of Florence and sits high above the city like Jesus overlooking his disciples. To have a panoramic view of the city, visit the Santa Maria del Fiori cathedral
- Museo Nazionale del Bargello – This Gothic palace holds an esteemed collection of Renaissance sculptures from dozens of artists. Holding the title of Italy’s first national museum, the building was formerly a prison in the 13th century. Today, you can find works from the likes of Cellini, Michelangelo, and Donatello. To get a taste of knighthood, check out the Bargello’s courtyards decorated with armor and bronze birds. The largest collection of ivory pieces in the world and a sizable Islamic collection can also be found here.
Where to Stay:
The accommodations scenes changes according to seasons. Normally, July and August presents discounted options while Spring and Fall months go through a spike in prices. Whatever you do – always book direct and not through a tourist agency! Here are some suggestions:
- Palazzo Castiglioni – This masterpiece of a hotel is situated between the station and the Duomo offers 16 rooms. A double typically costs around 170 euro with a double suit around 200 euro.
- Hotel Accademia – This moderately prices hotel comes with marble stairs, 21 rooms, and beautiful parquet floor that shine like gold. Expect to pay around 140 for a double and 170 for a triple per night.
- Hotel Pendini – This hotel comes with 42 rooms and overlooks the Piazza Repubblica. Expect to pay up to 110 for a single and up to 150 for a double room depending on the season.
Suggested 3 Day Florence Itinerary:
- Day 1: Shopping! – Florence is one of the great shopping destinations in Europe, with busy markets dotting the scene especially around the Mercato Nuovo and Ponte Vecchio areas. It is said that better quality leather can be found here than anywhere else cheaper. If you want a piece of classy Italian fashion, visit the high end avenues of Via de Tornabuoni and Via Strozzi. The department store Coin is the equivalent of Macy’s in New York and Harrod’s in London, with the top end La Rinascente store the equivalent of Lafayette in Paris and El Corte Ingles in Madrid.
- Day 2: Local walking tours – For a trekker’s view of Florence, join a walking tour company with native English-speaking tour guides. Many of these walking tours will show you a complete mix of mainstream sights and take you off the beaten path as well. Tours can be given from an introduction point of view or target a specific area (i.e. Medici buildings, excursions to the nearby Siena countryside.) Check out florentia.org for more information.
- Day 3: The Uffizi Art gallery and the Museo Nazionale del Bargello. This time, go all out indoors and take a break from the walking tour.